The Effects of Ginseng, Ephedrine, and Caffeine on Cognitive Performance, Mood and Energy


  • Harris R. Lieberman Ph.D.

  • Dr. Lieberman is with the Military Nutrition Division, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, MA 01760–5007, USA.


A variety of claims regarding the purported energy-enhancing properties of nutritional supplements and food constituents have recently been made. It appears that the supplements most frequently associated with such assertions are ginseng, ephedrine, and caffeine. Claims of increased energy are difficult to evaluate objectively because their meaning is not usually defined or specified. Often it is not clear whether the claims refer to physical or mental energy or both. Furthermore, an agreed upon scientific definition of either physical or mental energy enhancement does not exist. In spite of obvious differences in what the term physical energy, as opposed to mental energy implies, there is no clear scientific consensus on whether there is a difference between the two types of energy. Because the substances in question have been anecdotally associated with improvements in both physical and mental performance, their effects on both functions will be discussed, but with an emphasis placed on cognitive function and mood. Of the three substances discussed, caffeine's effects on cognitive and physical function, mood, and energy are best understood. It is clear that this food/drug enhances these functions when administered in moderate doses. Ephedrine may also enhance certain physical and mental functions related to “energy,” but the evidence that ginseng has such properties is exceedingly weak.